We can’t remember the detail dummy. Retention & memory issues for presenters

April 15, 2009

in Fit Focus Flair, Writing your presentation

Retention:
In a vast scientific study into memory and retention in education, (Gillian Cohen, Martin Conway and Nicola Stanhop, March 1992) showed that after a lecture or presentation:

Rapid forgetting occurs in the first two years after learning.
Thereafter memory stabilized and remained at above chance levels for the remainder of the period.
Knowledge, still retained after approximately two years, appears to remain intact indefinitely.

There were two exceptions to this pattern of forgetting.
Memory for details and highly specific facts declined rapidly. In as little as 48 hours as much as 95% of the detail of any presentation is lost.
Memory for general principles was extremely stable and showed no forgetting over the 12-year period of the study.

So let’s just confirm some of that in plain English.

Highly specific, detailed information will be 95% gone from us 2 days after the talking stops.
We’ll remember the general principles of a presentation very well if they are clearly made.

So for those of us keen on detail for detail’s sake, there are a couple of really important things to remember. For the rest of us it probably means we should do
Less on the detail because it’s going to be forgotten anyway, and
More to ensure that the general principles of what we are saying are clear, interesting, relevant and repeated enough times to make sure that that’s what the audience remembers when everything else is lost. Interesting Eh?

This is a part of my Fit, Focus & Flair model. To be great, a presentation must be a perfect FIT for the situation; the content must have complete FOCUS on it’s purpose and message; and it must have enough FLAIR to stand out on the day, and in our memories. Learn more about developing your Fit, Focus and Flair.

Jim Harvey

Jim Harvey

Managing Director at The Message Business
Jim is the MD of The Message Business, a company which helps FTSE 100 companies to sell themselves, and their products better. Speech writer, Prezi trainer and designer, coach and consultant, Jim also finds time to be a proud father and husband.
Jim Harvey

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